What Exactly Is Jerusalem Syndrome?

Published October 12, 2016

What Causes Jerusalem Syndrome?

Jerusalem Syndrome Katarzyna Kozyra Donkey

Courtesy of Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation and Postmasters GalleryA still from the Polish artist Katarzyna Kozyra’s (Right) documentary about Jerusalem Syndrome.

To contract Type 3 Jerusalem Syndrome — the rarest, and must sudden onset of the syndrome — Bar-El says you must have no prior history of mental illness (he says that those with Type 1 and 2 have a history of mental illness). Second, you must be traveling to Jerusalem as a general tourist.

Beyond those two factors, not much else seems to predict who will “contract” Type 3 of the syndrome. Gender doesn’t seem to have much bearing, as women and men are affected in equal proportion. As for religion, Bar-El’s research does suggest that Protestants may be particularly susceptible: Over the course of a decade, the psychiatrist found that among the 42 patients he saw with the syndrome, one was a Jewish man who had lived as a Protestant, one was Catholic, and the rest were all Protestants.

Others say that the syndrome may simply be a reaction to the environment — and a rather disappointing one, at that. The logic goes that once tourists arrive in Jerusalem and realize that it’s just another city, they grow restless. Their minds — soggy from disappointment and failed expectations — simply break into a religious fever from the culture shock.

Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky lectures on Jerusalem Syndrome.
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